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UK: Special investigation exposes student loans ‘fraud’

A BBC Panorama investigation into student loan fraud at private colleges has highlighted malpractices that could be costing the UK millions of pounds each year. Rogue agents were secretly filmed supplying fake documents to undercover students and assisting them to fraudulently gain access to student loans when they had no intent to study.

Rogue agents were secretly filmed assisting students to fraudulently gain access to student loans when they had no intent to study.Rogue agents were secretly filmed assisting students to fraudulently gain access to student loans when they had no intent to study. Photo: BBC

Logan was secretly filmed explaining that a previous student had never been to a class or completed an assignment, but had graduated with a law degree the previous year

Students on approved courses at private colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be entitled to maintenance loans in the region of £11,000 and up to £6,000 in tuition fee loans, paid direct to colleges.

During the course of its 10-month investigation, Panorama filmed one London agent, Imran Saeed Sheikh, offering to get a bogus student admitted onto a two-year HND business course at Grafton College for a £200 fee.

This would enable the student to access student loan payments, of which the agent would claim an annual fee of £1,500 to cover fake attendance records and to provide all required coursework.

When the undercover student explained that they lacked the necessary qualifications to meet entry criteria for the course, for £600 Sheikh supplied them with a certificate equivalent to A-Levels.

Sheikh claimed the certificate was sourced from Grafton’s head of operations Asif Khawaja.

Panorama also filmed a freelance agent at GSM London, Charles Logan, who told an undercover student that enrolling on a three-year business management degree would not interfere with their full-time job.

About £400 million annually is received by 112 private colleges through the student loan system

Logan was secretly filmed explaining that a previous student had never been to class or completed an assignment, but had graduated with a law degree the previous year.

He said the student had used his loan money to open two restaurants.

Panorama said Logan received approximately £600 or 10% of the tuition fees paid to GSM London for every student he helped to enrol at the college.

Addressing the footage, GSM London president and CEO Amanda Blackmore said the actions of Logan’s company Future Leaders’ Academy Limited are totally unacceptable and are not reflective of GSM London standards.

“FLA has let us down and I am clear that our independent review will identify and address any gaps in our internal process.”

A spokesperson for the University of Plymouth, the accrediting body of a number of degrees taught at GSM London, told The PIE News that the university has launched a thorough investigation into all matters raised by the program.

“The university has longstanding and robust academic regulations and processes to prevent academic dishonesty and to ensure the academic quality of its degrees,” they said.

“This program has raised a number of concerning allegations relating to GSM London and we have requested that GSM London carries out a thorough investigation into all matters raised. In addition…we are launching a full and independent investigation of our own which will be externally led.”

“If Grafton College is found to have not met our expectations on standards and behaviour we can and will take further actions, including the option of terminating the partnership”

Following the broadcast, a spokesperson for Open University, which has recently begun offering degree courses in partnership with Grafton College, told The PIE News the university is suspending any future registrations from Grafton and is undertaking a thorough investigation into the matter.

“There is a small group of students currently studying for an OU validated course with Grafton College.  We have no evidence that they are implicated in any fraud, and will support them to complete their studies.

If Grafton College is found to have not met our expectations on standards and behaviour we can and will take further actions, including the option of terminating the partnership.”

This year student loan debt in the UK topped £100billion, while approximately £400 million annually is received by 112 private colleges through the student loan system.

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